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Creative Ways To Use Competencies

By Kelly Craig on January, 7 2016
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Kelly Craig

Organizations that invest in competencies usually begin by applying them to foundational HR processes. 

These include processes such as recruitment, assessments, performance management, career development, and succession planning. 

But competencies can be creatively applied to a much wider range of inspirational and culture-building initiatives to strengthen the workplace and engage employees.

When an organization chooses to manage talent with competencies, strengthening core HR processes is usually the first order of business. But once the basics are in place, it’s the perfect time to explore the application of competencies to less typical HR areas. These creative ideas show how competencies can be used outside of the traditional talent-management cycle to strengthen teams, boost employee morale, and build corporate culture.

Peer recognition

Tying competencies into employee awards or peer recognition programs can be very rewarding. HRSG recently launched peer awards to acknowledge and celebrate the employees whose job performance most closely embodies our core competencies: teamwork, innovation, and client focus. While the time and effort required to launch the initiative was small, it yielded a big payoff in terms of increased morale and awareness of the behaviors that make our company great.

We started by inviting our employees to nominate their peers in one of the three core competency areas. Each nomination included a brief description of how the nominee exemplified the chosen core competency. Next, an awards committee evaluated the submissions and selected a winner in each category based on the number of nominations they received and the quality of those submissions.

In addition to rewarding employees whose performance went above and beyond, the peer awards accomplished two other important goals. First, they raised awareness of the company’s core competencies throughout the organization and encouraged employees to think about how those competencies express themselves at the job level for various positions. And secondly, they gave employees the opportunity to reflect on the hard work their peers put in during the year and the unique capabilities they bring to the organization.

Team-building activities

One of the most valued aspects of competency-based talent management is the ability to link competencies and proficiency levels to specific learning resources. Many companies organize approved courses, on-the-job training, mentorships and other resources in this way to help individuals address deficiencies or reach the next level. Yet connecting competencies to learning activities designed to address issues or improve function for a team is less common.

However, building a team retreat or activity around shared or core competencies can be more effective than generic team-building activities. While paintball and scavenger hunts can be fun and relaxing, there’s little evidence that these pursuits enhance team function. A survey by Vodaphone UK and YouGov found that 54 percent of participants didn’t feel that team activities helped them work better with their colleagues, with adventure games and trust exercises being considered the least effective.

Replacing these types of activities with learning experiences that are aligned with key team or core competencies keep things relevant and on track. For example, if “innovation” is a core competency or one that’s integral to the role of everyone on the team, choose a group activity that aligns with that competency—such as participating in a technology or innovation competition. If “client focus” is important, consider a client service workshop or have each member of the team choose a book on the topic of client service and present their findings to the team.

A competency-based approach to team-building doesn’t mean giving up white-water rafting or treasure hunts, but it does mean being more intentional about the purpose of these activities. Do you want to reward employees with an enjoyable activity, or do you want to focus on giving them the tools they need to work together effectively?

Visual reinforcement

Competencies are an effective HR tool, but their value goes much deeper. An organization’s core competencies are part of its identity, connecting people in different disciplines, regions, and organizational levels to a shared set of behaviors and values. But if they’re kept in a drawer and dusted off once a year for assessments or performance management, they’re unlikely to take root and reinforce the organization’s culture.

Recognizing the value of competencies that are a living, breathing part of the organization, one of HRSG’s clients decided to take a different approach with the competencies we helped them develop. They created a visual brand for their core competencies that could be integrated into the workplace in a number of ways, including posters, desk calendars, screensavers, large-scale stencils for the warehouse floor, and even vehicle wraps for their fleet.

For this client, a strong and unified organizational culture was especially important, since they had recently come out of receivership and undergone a major restructuring. Weaving their core competencies into the visual fabric of their workplace helped them shine a spotlight on their values, reinforce the cultural change, and create a sense of pride and ownership in the behaviors that make their organization unique.


Want to learn more about using competencies? Get started with our Competency Toolkit:

Download your Competency Toolkit using the form below.



Post last updated: June 20, 2019.

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